If you're reading this on Halloween weekend, they were wrong.

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series and the world did not end.

The apocalypse, certain to be upon us as soon as the Red Sox tampered with the time continuum and the forces of nature by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night for their first World Series championship since 1918, never happened.

Boston did not vaporize.

Buildings around Fenway Park were not reduced to rubble. In fact, Thursday afternoon, LeeAnn Coleman was inside one of those buildings, her daily place of work, looking out her office window at a scene that was alien and other-worldly in its own way.

"Everybody's in a good mood," Coleman said, still sounding surprised as she studied the physical evidence. "Instead of honking their horn, they're letting people actually cross the street. People are more cheerful than usual. I don't think people can stop smiling."

Coleman said she could see long lines outside Fenway Park, fans waiting to buy "World Champion Red Sox" souvenirs that weren't gag gifts.

"They wait in line for an hour, and then to every person that they pass, it's 'Look what I got! Look what I got!' " she said with a laugh. "It's so funny. It's like a treasure trove and you bring back new paraphernalia with the World Series logo on it. 'It is real! It is real! It's on a T-shirt now!' "

On another coast, Todd Stuart, a native of Sturbridge, Mass., who now lives in Long Beach, Calif., watched the game he thought he'd never watch Wednesday night with the television volume cranked loud enough to annoy the neighbors, armed with celebratory champagne and cigars that, this time, did not go to waste.

"I never thought I'd live to see this day," said Stuart, 36, who spent his first 22 years in Massachusetts. "Especially after last year."

After last year, when the Red Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a hellish Game 7 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Stuart said, "I just thought, 'Oh, this is the way it's going to be.'

"A quote from one of my friends in college, who was from Philadelphia, always stuck with me. He said, 'Bostongreat playoff city.' And he'd always laugh when he said it. Statements like that kind of always made me wonder when it came to Boston teams, whether we were ever going to win the big one. Especially with baseball.

"I really never thought I would actually see them run onto the field after winning the World Series. World Series and Red Sox -- you really don't equate the two. Now we can."

And that brings Red Sox Nation to a new, bizarre and almost unimaginable predicament.

What now?

For 86 years, Red Sox fans were defined by their suffering and miseryand the suffering and misery they inflicted on everybody else when they moaned on and on about it. For more than three generations, fear and loathing has been a way of life in New England -- and wherever transplanted Red Sox masochists land.

Take away the torment and the torture and what do those fans have to live for?

Roger Clemens, the former Red Sox pitching ace turned Blue Jay-Yankee-Astro and New England anti-hero, predicted that life would not change much in Boston, once the initial champagne buzz wore off.

Talking to reporters Wednesday at a charity golf tournament in Deer Park, Texas, Clemens said Red Sox fans would "be happy for a day, anyway. But they won't have anything to complain about anymore. You might see a smile for about a week in Boston and then they'll go back to being miserable."

Red Sox fans Coleman and Stuart disagree.

"I can't imagine us, after the first pitch is thrown next year, feeling exactly the same waythat we'll never win again," Coleman said. "So I think some of the [new] identity is that everyone has this newfound optimism that it happened once, so now it can happen again. It definitely is going to be changed.

"You get used to a behavior over 86 years, and it sort of sticks with you. It's not going to be overnight that the behavior does change, but people are definitely going to really be more optimistic going forward. And I think it's going to carry over into other aspects of their lives, not just being Red Sox fans."

Stuart said these new-age Red Sox were "not going to be like the Patriots, where it's going to possibly be a dynasty. But I think the Red Sox are still going to be very good, still very competitive with the Yankees. I don't think we'll ever lose that. I don't think we're ever going to not chase the Yankees. I don't think it's going to turn around, either, where now it's the Yankees chasing us.

"I think it's going to be very much the same. Games are going to come down to the wire, there's still going to be that mad dash to the end of September, October, for first place. I think what we've seen in the last five, six years is pretty much the way its going to go for a while.

"It's going to be just as exciting. And, hopefully, the Red Sox will come out on top for more of them now. Now that they kind of got the monkey off their back, I think we face things a little bit differently."

Watching from afar, with no small amount of envy, longtime Chicago Cub fan Mike Mooney predicted that the Red Sox and their fans would not lose much identity in the wake of victory. But if they did, he said, so what?

"They'll be euphoric for the next 50 years, I figure," he said. "It won't matter. They're going to be happy for the rest of their lives."

And what about Cub fans? With no championship to celebrate since 1908, they have to be on deck, right? If the Red Sox can do it, the Cubs and their fans have to be encouraged, yes?

"I think most people would say it does, but personally I would say no," said Mooney, the vice president for communications at Hollywood Park. "What are the odds that this could happen twice in my lifetime? I don't feel any closer. It's more like, 'Why them and not us?'

"It doesn't give me more hope. Too many tough setbacks. In fact, I just used my plane tickets that I bought last year when the Cubs were up, 3-1, (against Florida in the National League Championship Series). I got up at four in the morning and made hotel reservations, booked flights for my wife and I. I went in Monday morning and took off work. For the World Series, I had a deal with a (ticket) broker lined up. Then they lose three straight."

Mooney said he used the plane tickets a few weeks ago, flying back to Chicago "figuring it was going to be the (playoff) clinching on closing weekend for the Cubs -- and we got there just in time to have them eliminated. Using the tickets that we bought a year ago when the World Series went up in smoke -- it's awful."

The Cubs haven't won the World Series in 96 years, and Mort Witz has been around for 76 of them. Born in Chicago and now living in West Los Angeles, Witz said his optimism as a Cub fan was boosted by the Red Sox' triumph.

"As far as I'm concerned, they're 10 years closer to what I was looking forward to," said Witz. "It's the difference of waiting 86 and 96 years. Hope is on the way."

Witz spent this World Series the way most Cub fans spend every World Series -- watching it on television and rooting for any ex-Cubs involved.

"I didn't feel envy so much," he said. "I was happy for those that were Cub players, (Mark) Bellhorn and (Bill) Mueller. Those two, for sure, that I can think of, but there were three or four that were Cubs at one time. I felt good for them."

Look for the Cubs to replace the Red Sox as the trendy team to support in 2005, now that the Red Sox have shed their yoke.

"One of the funniest things I read about the Red Sox is, I think it was in Sports Illustrated, was this really funny article about the psychoses of Red Sox fans and how they're always doomsday, this is going to be awful, my team's a loser, blah, blah, blah," Coleman said.

"They had this guy on a couch with a psychiatrist and the gist of the article was, well, if the Red Sox ever won, all the Red Sox fans are going to become Cubs fans because they don't know any other way.

"It's our birthright to be miserable about our team. And now, it's just so contrary."

So that's one way to sustain the United Baseball Masochists of America for a while.

A Cubs' World Series title in our lifetime? This lifetime? The one that now includes the long-impossible Red Sox World Series title?

Witz is 76 and believes he'll live to see it.

"Yep, yep," he said. "They're ready."

Mooney is 50 and not so optimistic.

"I was thinking about that the other day," he said. "I might have to live a long time. If I live to be 100, I think I've got a shot. ... But it's a slim one."

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek leaps into the arms of pitcher Keith Foulke after the final out that brought the Red Sox their first World Series title in 86 years.Red Sox fans show their appreciation outside Fenway Park in Boston in the early morning hours after the Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games.